A court in Nebraska has been wrestling with the question of why a Catholic minister would steal parish money, rob an ailing pedophile priest, and give it all to a homeless man to blow in casinos.
The Rev. Michael Gutgsell is the former Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Omaha. He has admitted embezzling around $100,000 over eight years from St. Joseph parish in Springfield. And he took $180,000 from a retired priest under his care, Rev. Thomas Richling, who suffered from dementia.
In 2020, the archdiocese announced an investigation into Richling had “led to the substantiation of multiple instances of sexual misconduct with minors.”
Gutgsell, 73, transferred all the money to Michael Barrett, a man living on the streets of Omaha. He added $250,000 of his own money to this, draining his personal accounts, life savings, insurance, and retirement account in the process.
Barrett gambled away $700,000, all donated by his benefactor, Gutsgell. It’s not clear from court documents, viewed by Casino.org, where the remaining $170,000 came from.
If you include some of Barrett’s winnings, then he lost a total of $1 million at casinos in Council Bluffs, Iowa, the court heard last week.
Prosecutors suggested Gutsgell was being extorted by Barrett, an assertion the cleric denies. He says it was charity.
Meanwhile, Gutsgell’s defense lawyers argued their client was the victim of a con man. But prosecutors asked why Gutsgell would steal to help just one homeless person when he could have directed the money into a homeless charity to help many more.
“It appeared to us that it was an extortion case,” lead investigator on the case Bill Mulligan testified Wednesday, as reported by Norfolk Daily News. “We asked him numerous times if there was any other reason he gave this man $700,000. Gutgsell stated no, there was no reason he did other than him being a homeless person. He said it wasn’t extortion.”
Second Priest Extorted
Gutgsell has admitted siphoning the money from Richling by writing checks to himself or filling out cash-withdrawal slips while he had power of attorney for the retired priest, who was in a nursing home at the time.
Richling died in 2019, aged 90, and Gutgsell was assigned to oversee the administration of his estate.
Barrett has been accused of extorting another priest, Rev. James Dawson, for $185, according to the Norfolk Daily News. Barrett visited Dawson at another nursing home in Lincoln before the latter’s death in 2020. Gutsgell allegedly drove Barrett to this meeting.
Barrett’s whereabouts are unknown, according to court filings.
Douglas County Judge Marcena Hendrix ordered Gutgsell to be tried in a federal court on two felony charges, theft and abuse of a vulnerable adult.
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